Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Greening the CCW

The Great Catholic Worker Light Bulb Swap is underway! Believe it or not, there are around 200 light bulbs in the Catholic Worker house! So far, we have replaced about 75 with fluorescent bulbs. We've strategically targeted high-traffic areas and high-wattage bulbs, and we'll get around to the rest eventually. The good news is that the kitchen and most of the basement (where the food pantry is located) is already outfitted with long, tubular fluorescent lights, but that has still left quite a few more to swap out.

Used light bulbs can go to the Free Store and to a friend who donated dozens of fluorescent bulbs to us but who himself prefers incandescents (some people are very sensitive to the glare). At first, we waited for them to burn out before replacing, but now we have a way to make sure they won't get wasted, so we decided to swap them out now.

A new Energy-Star refrigerator also graces the kitchen, replacing a model from 1985. Funds were low, but there were some tremendous savings and rebates this past weekend, part of them through the federal government. Even though we didn't have time to properly raise funds, we decided to seize the moment and ended up saving 35% off the price of a new fridge. A generous donor took the risk and purchased it, hoping to split the cost with someone else if anyone out there feels called to help.

Our clothes dryer and washing machine are also at the end of their usable life, and we hope to raise money to replace those, soon. Not only does the live-in community use those items, but we also offer them to some struggling neighbors. While I prefer to air-dry as much as possible, a dryer is useful for bedding and for guests.

We can't wait to replace the 4 gallons-per-flush toilets with newer, 1.5 gallon units. Just do the math: Imagine a workshop with about 40 participants, each flushing 3-4 times over the course of a 2-day retreat. That's around 650 gallons for a single weekend, and that might be a conservative estimate! We already bought 3 new units, now we just have to raise money to get them installed and then move on to the other units (there are a total of 10 plus another in the food pantry).

Like a lot of poor families, it is hard to allocate meager funds in order to be environmentally efficient. It is heartbreaking to scrape together $700 for a new refrigerator only to see about $8-10 in monthly savings. It does add up and it does pay for itself over the course of about 5 years, but when you're broke it is hard to make long-term plans like that. However, the environmental savings makes the decision a lot easier.

There are also plans to research how the boiler system works in this building, as most of our energy costs go to heat the place. It can be expensive to bring in a boiler expert to do this research, but there is quite a bit of potential savings. The boiler itself may be fine, but the complicated valve and pipe system can dramatically affect efficiency if it is not set properly, we have recently learned.

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Our core group member Erin just made some improvements on her house, and it is worth pointing those out as it can be useful for others to know about these things.

First off, she qualified for a free comprehensive home weatherization program! She did this by meeting certain income requirements. There was a team that came over to stuff the walls full of insulation, seal the duct work, and perform numerous other weatherization tasks. She also got a new furnace.

Check out this link for more information on this federally-funded program, and pass this information on to others. A local group called IMPACT did the work. The best way to start the process is to call IMPACT directly.

Replacing appliances and light bulbs are wonderful things, but the real hippopotamus in the living room is the energy savings that comes from a properly insulated home.

Last but most certainly not least, long-time Catholic Worker friend Jonathan through his company Rainbrothers will be out today installing two new rain barrels at Erin's house. The fresh water that runs off her roof will now be used to water her vegetable garden and flowers.

It took me a while to understand how rain barrels could be an environmental benefit, but it works like this: Instead of pumping city water that has been treated with chlorine and other chemicals, she can instead harvest the fresh rainwater from her roof. Significant amounts of water are overflowing the city sewers as they run off rooftops, roads and sidewalks. That water would normally be used to build up the local water table, but instead it is being flushed out in the drains. It makes no sense to drain away the water that is naturally falling onto her property only to pump it back up again, treated with chemicals.

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There is still nothing better than plain old fashioned conservation. Despite all the advances in energy efficiency, nothing save quite as much energy as simply not using it in the first place!


Bob Kratzenberg said...

Frank I believe that Deacon Kas Santos has experience working with pressurized boiler systems. He may be able to put you in touch with a colleague willing to donate his/her services.

Bob Kratzenberg

Frank said...


Thanks for the tip! I'll mention that to Deacon Santos next time I see him!